How do you end up working in careers?

This is an interesting icould story talking about how you can end up working in the careers field.

In this film Christine talks about her struggle with different jobs and how she moved into being an employment mentor.

It would be interesting to investigate people’s pathways and motivations in this field a bit more.

Anyone interested in telling their story on this blog?


The Amazing Maurice and his narrative career counselling


I’ve just finished reading my daughter The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. It is a fantastic book.

It contains a quote that sums up the idea behind narrative career counselling/life-design brilliantly. I thought that it would be good to share!

If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.

And what if your story doesn’t work?

You keep changing it until you find one that does.

The power of stories, the need to actively engage in creating your own stories and the importance of continually developing your story. All of that plus talking cats and rats with a religion based on Beatrix Potter, it really is very good value.

Just heading off for the Buxton to Derby ride

So today is the day. I’m about to leave the house and head to Derby, get loaded into a coach, drive to Buxton and then start my charity cycle.

This is a major challenge for me so I’m excited and nervous. OK, I know its not exactly like climbing the Shard but I start the day not knowing whether it is really within my capabilities. Obviously I hope that I’ll make it, I cycle a fair bit, so why shouldn’t I, but it is hilly, I’ve got a bike that is designed for town riding,  and I’ve also never been part of an organised ride before (who knows what weird lycra clad things they’ll make me do). I’ve got a million excuses as to why I might not make it, but when I wrote them down it just sounded like Phil Och’s Draft Dodger Rag.

I think that my willingness to occasionally try things that I don’t know that I can succeed in is a fairly good character trait. I think that without this trait I probably wouldn’t have my current job, nor have applied for a lot of the projects that I’ve really enjoyed. Putting yourself out there and seeing what happens, seems to me to be a pretty good career skills, which can only be fed by signing up for ridiculous cycle.

I’m less sure about my decision to broadcast this personal struggle to the my entire professional and social network. I suspect it would have been more strategic to keep it to myself and then to broadcast my achievements once they have been achieved. On the other hand you wouldn’t have had the fun of the build up nor got to experience my endearing vulnerability.

What is it that people respond to positively? Personally, I don’t tend to respond to endless boasts about success. So, you’re a rocket scientist – that don’t impress me much! In fact, there is an element of resentment – why are you shoving your success in my face. On the other hand engaging people in a story, is much more appealing. Dear reader, in the unlikely event that you care at all about my pathetic cycle ride, it is probably because you know a bit about me already and I’ve engaged you in my plans. Through building a bit of a narrative I may have gained your interest and encouraged you to feel more positively about me. This may have career benefits as well as increasingly the likelihood that you sponsor me  (it is for the University’s chosen charity Dogs for the Disabled). So does this kind of narrativisation of the journey support career building? Will it still work if my wheel falls off or I accidentally stop for an extended pub lunch and then get the bus home? I’m not sure. What do you think?

You can follow me today on Twitter.  I’ll try and update whenever I get the chance and the reception. I’ll also blog the outcome tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

Exploring the turning points in researchers’ lives


Vitae have just put out a new publication that I worked on with Bill Law. The publication is called Exploring the turning points in researchers’ lives and sets out an approach to careers work called three scene storyboarding.

Storyboarding aims to help researchers to set down their experiences, to think about their careers and to take action based on this reflection. Storyboarding is a creative technique which asks researchers to think about their lives in narrative terms and to set down their experience in the form of drawings. It is an innovative technique that asks them to think about their careers in an unfamiliar way. We found  that it can be a challenging technique for professionals to get started with. However, this report shows that the storyboarding approach can be useful and that it can expand any researcher’s career-management repertoire.

I’d be interested to hear any thoughts about storyboarding from anyone who has used it or is thinking about using it.

Evaluating iCould

We’re just in the process of evaluating the iCould site. If you haven’t seen it before it is well worth having a look at. Essentially it offers about 1000 career stories which focus on the twists and turns of peoples careers. It is very different than the standard “day in a life of…” careers film site and I feel much more useful.

If you want to get a feel for the kind of material that is included on the site watch this interview with Louise Court (Editor of Cosmopolitan) talking about her family influence on her career and then her winding path to her current job.

Reflections on storyboarding with researchers

I’ve just finished running a careers session for researchers using the storyboarding technique as part of our Vitae Innovate project. I was working with Jo Sibson from the University of Derby Career Development Centre to deliver the session and we had a useful debriefing afterwards to talk about the session. So I thought that I’d use this post to set down some of my thoughts following the delivery of the session.

If you haven’t come across storyboarding before you probably want to start with Bill Law’s Storyboarding Stockroom which sets out some of the background thinking on the technique and provides ideas and resources for its use. Essentially storyboarding is a technique to help individuals to set down their experiences in a way which helps to facilitate taking action around career and related issues. I find the technique very interesting, but I think that there is still some work to do in effectively translating it into a practical methodology that careers workers can easily use. Essentially this is what the Vitae project is trying to do in relation to researcher and a number of other iCeGS storyboarding projects are attempting to do in relation to other groups.

Before I start talking about the session that we ran I think that it is worth reflecting on the process of engaging students in the storyboarding process. In short, it was bloody hard! The term storyboarding is not one that means very much to students and in general seemed to provoke either disinterest or suspicion. My feeling is that focusing on the method of delivery rather than the outcomes is a big mistake. I think that when we are trying to engage students we need to focus on what the session will be talking about rather than how it is being done. My thought is that the concept of a “career turning point” is a better place to start. I entitled the session “Career turning points: How researchers can think about their careers in new and different ways” and I think that had we publicised it under something like this we might have got a better response. I’d appreciate any thoughts on how to better package the ideas and sessions that use the storyboarding technique.

I posted up the slides that I used in the session yesterday. I thought it might be useful to provide a bit of commentary on each of the slides to help to explain what we did and why.

Slides 1-4 – Introductory slides setting out the background to the workshop

Slide 5 – An open question asking participants to come up with ideas about what researchers’ careers typically look like. The idea is to set the session in the context of researchers careers and to gauge some of their assumptions and knowledge about the researcher labour market.

Slides 6-7 – Presenting some information about the researcher labour market.

Slide 8 – Asking people to think about what factors impact on career decision making and career success. A brainstorm activity to get people thinking about how career works.

Slides 9 – 10 – Looking at the idea of turning points to make the argument that this is a key element of career management.

Slide 11 – Using some iCould/Vitae career stories depicting researchers careers. This serves two main purposes, firstly, it gives participants some time to engage with the career stories of researchers who have experienced some of the same things as them. Secondly it gives them some practice of identifying turning points and discussing the ways in which people navigated those turning points.

Slides 12 – 13 Introduce the storyboarding technique. (Notice that we’ve left it until relatively late). It feels that we need to set the context both interms of researchers careers and the idea of thinking about your career analytically before we hit them with the storyboarding technique. I feel that having done this it gives the technique some credibility and makes people feel that it is based on something other than just doing a nice drawing. 

Slide 14 – We gave out the storyboarding handout and asked participants to identify the turning point that they wanted to focus on. We specified that it needed to be something specific and relatively recent. They then took about 5-10 minutes to jot notes into the “Remembering” section of the storyboarding handout.

Slides 15 – 16 gave them some techniques to use in representing their story as a storyboard. With hindsight I would have cut slide 16 and replaced it with a sample completed storyboard. I didn’t notice until we were doing the session that they didn’t have any model to follow. I think that this would have helped participants to feel surer about what they are being asked to do. We then asked them to draw the “showing” bit of the storyboard handout. They did this well but it took a long time. I stopped it after about 15-20 minutes so that we had some time to talk about it. Participants would have benefitted from longer to develop their storyboard.

Slide 17 – We talked about their storyboards and then used our discussion to help them action plan in the “futuring” section. The discussion was very high quality and people really engaged. The storyboards were helpful in enabling us to ask probing questions about their narratives.

Slide 18 – fin


All in all this was a very positive experience. The way in which the session contextualised the idea of storyboarding and used the film material to stimulate discussion worked really well. The participants were excellent and really engaged with the process – obviously you can’t always guarentee this. In general I felt that the session confirmed my belief that storyboarding is a good technique and enabled us to have deeper conversations than is often the case in these kind of sessions.

However it is also worth recording some concerns/issues that need further thought.

  • The process was lengthy. We just about got it all done in 2.5 hours, but we did rush participants a bit towards the end. The technique is exploratory and opens up issues and therefore doesn’t really lend itself to being done very quickly. How often you are going to get access to participants for half a day to do something like this I’m not sure.
  • People have to focus on a turning point in the past as they aren’t able to identify one in the present. This means that participants may end up talking about something that they have already worked through to their own satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there is no learning in it for them, but those who are currently working through a current or recent turning point may have a more active experience of storyboarding.
  • It is difficult to link the “remembering” and “showing” elements of the model to the “futuring” element. The way in which out participants remembered and showed did not lend itself to the fairly conventional action planning model of the futuring section (who are you going to talk to, where are you going to go, what are you going to do?). It may be that the way in which the reflection is transmuted into action needs to be rethought. I tried to do this by concieving the futuring section as “what are you going to do to make a turning point happen” and this sort of worked.
  • The way that we contexted it using the idea of turning points in researchers careers worked well, but it is not the only way that it could be contexted. Actually the participants that we were working with were in the process of transitioning into the academic environment (1st year PhD) and we could have refocused it on the idea of transition and acculturation. We could do with more materials and approaches to the use of storyboarding that can help us to think about contexting the technique. It seems clear to me that the technique won’t work cold and that appropriate contexting is essential.

So there you go – that is an initial br
ain dump on my storyboarding experience. Any thoughts/comments.



Talking Jobs: An interview with Andrew Manson

I’ve met Andrew Manson of Talking Jobs a couple of times and I interact with him on Twitter a fair bit (he’s @AndrewManson1)  when I realised that I didn’t really know what he and Talking Jobs did.


So I interviewed him by email, here is the interview…


Who are you?


I’m a new media producer with background in anthropology and track record developing interactive training, public information and education pieces, and some more besides.  On graduating I went into television, and really enjoyed learning about making programmes but floundered in the gap between what I wanted to make and what actually got commissioned. I was terribly earnest and if given the chance would have made some very dull documentaries but thankfully found interactive instead.  I was really taken by two multimedia exhibits, the first at the Commonwealth Institute and the other at the National Portrait Gallery. Fifty or so projects and three children later I founded




What is Talking Jobs? 


Talking Jobs is a video snapshot of UK society presented through an online player that encourages quick comparisons between case studies. As such it is a narrative tool built for young people to explore ahead of making important decisions about their education, and rests on a common set of in-depth questions about people’s work, their education choices and family backgrounds. I have always seen it as a blended career learning tool, for teachers to help seed classroom discussion about work, stereotypes and society, and as guidance tool used as preparation for face to face sessions with careers and IAG people. 


So it is a series of videos about careers. There are loads of them, what is different about yours?



Image Copyright Claire Manson ( 



Perhaps the most significant difference is the tie in with learning outcomes from the national framework for careers education. To my knowledge it is the only resource to directly associate personal narratives with learning outcomes in a structured way. 

In building Talking Jobs I took the view that everybody with sufficient work/life experience has something we can all learn from; that a butchers life choices can influence a future barrister, and vice versa. The “see a vet be a vet” model is fine, but does little to challenge assumptions and  stereotypes, and may even do the opposite. However in order to democratise the content in a meaningful way, the recordings have be presented symmetrically to allow instant comparisons between narratives. This level of interactivity raises the engagement significantly while also helping young people come to value the experiences of others they might not normally meet, and encourages them to create their own journeys in the gaps between other people stories. As such the resource has to be viewed as a whole with case studies, video player and lesson plans used in concert to help move young people’s thinking on.  

Impartiality is a core feature of the approach and company, product and brand names are avoided in the recordings. The interviews were shot to capture personal insights and experience from the workplace but not as sponsorship opportunity or implicit brand message. I have no problem with other case study sites having an explicit corporate voice, but not necessarily as a starting point for young peoples’ enquiry about the world of work.


The Talking Jobs interviews are in depth asking people about their experiences at school, both negative and positive, family backgrounds and attitudes to education at home, as well as their experiences in the workplace. The resource even includes picture of the interviewees as children, which can be switched on in place of the video. Seeing the whole person in this way was a core part of the undertaking as people’s backgrounds underpin the life choices they make, and exploring their work experiences alone does not get to the heart of things. This is what harnesses the power of stories and also sets Talking Jobs apart. It’s the boundary between providing (labour market) information and fostering insight.

I guess the last differentiator is that while the site does have a useful free preview, full access means schools and colleges having to purchase a licence. This has a twofold benefit as it has allowed the resource to retain its independence and impartiality while also allowing the commercial model to evolve as the platform opens up to new ways in which it can be used.


 Why did you come up with this idea?



Image Copyright Claire Manson ( 

I’m not sure if it’s come from my family, or from having studied a social science or from having spent so long living in tricky bits of London, but I’ve always been acutely aware of the societal consequences of life in silos according to education, location and background. These powerful forces shape aspirations, yet are often accepted without challenge, as we draw so much identity from them. Talking Jobs is an attempt to help young people explore these themes about identity and society while starting to craft their own journeys also. I guess I’m trying to widen the careers education model to embrace social issues at the same time; you could see it as a little anthropology/sociology into a world dominated by psychology, but all under the radar of course.

I also feel that young people need support widening their ideas about success and how this might differ between people. I also believe this widening should sit in-front of any form of skills assessment.  I have also been concerned about the routine use of with psychometric testing in schools without any wrap around guidance to interrogate the results. After all, we can all acquire new skills, and even strive for desirable personal attributes, provided the motivation and support is there to help us do it. There is also an ethical dimension to this, as excessive pressure on teachers has created the quick fix scenario where these tools become a convenient way of meeting the curriculum requirements – no questions asked. Overall it feels like the careers education process needs to start from another point, with skills testing coming into the equation later on and handled by guidance professionals qualified to explore the results they offer. 

 Is anyone using it? 

Yes. While not yet as far reaching as I would like the overall pattern shows slow but steady growth, a trend not a fad with a broad spread of interest and activity around the platform and premise. While initially published with schools and colleges in mind, it got bought by some adult education centres; and while I’ve spent time exploring it for primary, the site started to be licensed by pupil referral units. But this goes further with enquiries from some large companies and perhaps predictably there’s been some recent experimentation using the resource with public sector workers facing redundancy and major shift in career focus.


What do the teachers and careers advisors make of it 

It is seen as extremely useful in a range of ways, both in and out of the classroom, as reality check and as a widening out tool. Many like that you can stay on a single question across the case studies or randomise the content in a useful way. They also place significant value on the lesson plans and independent sessions. Some express particular interest in using the materials to challenge stereotypes, wanting to draw from the questions about family background and attitudes to education at home. All like that it is clearly anchored in the national framework with a clear relationship between the case studies and learning outcomes.


I’ve also been especially pleased with comments about impartiality, most notably from careers advisors that have long sought case studies reliant on personal experience and insight and without corporate voice. Overall the response from teachers and CEIAG people has been hugely positive; they like the way the interviewees were recruited, the in-depth questions and how the player works, but it does call for them to make an effort working the resource into what they already do.




What do the young people make of it?


They like the authenticity of the responses, the depth of quest
ioning and generally get to grips with the player in seconds. During very early piloting using the ‘Have you got an attitude’ lesson pan, 16 KS4 students were asked what had been the most significant thing they had learned about the world of work from the session. Four of the sixteen answers given were as follows: 

·          “It doesn’t matter what your family background is, you could do anything.”

·         “Even successful people have poor backgrounds.”

·         “Even if your parents aren’t in a good job this doesn’t mean you can’t get a good job.

·         “The jobs sound very different to the people that are actually in that career.”


It’s worth noting that these responses were captured while the resource was half complete with only twenty case studies available. 


What would you like to improve about Talking Jobs?


At a recent Teach First conference I heard Sir Michael Barber liken best practice in teaching to bicycle design and maintenance, with constant tweaks required to keep things moving in the right direction. I think most developers feel the same way. The online environment is in constant flux, with iterative development a core component of best practice. This has parallels with careers development in the form of lifelong learning and CPD; we all need some career maintenance so we can withstand change, and at present change is all we’ve got.

In recent months I’ve been working with the City College Brighton and Hove (FE) to create the first student produced module. This Aimhigher funded collaboration represents the first ‘glocal’ module and will be given college branding yet ‘powered by’ Talking Jobs. Recruitment of the interviewees was supported by their own careers coordinator, Rick Cowling, whose idea the project was in the first place. In parallel I worked with the media tutor to provide his BTECH moving image students a professional brief for them to plan and direct local interviews as assessed coursework. This new module will be released later this spring and accessed via the college VLE and the Talking Jobs platform.


This round of development has also provided an opportunity to refine how the platform works to support critical thinking; a useful consolidation of functionality already on the site. There’s a host of other changes I would like to make, not least because Bill Law has been telling me to ‘mash it up’ for a while now, and this will very likely come, in some shape, as the system continues to evolve and adapt.


What are your ambitions for Talking Jobs? 

I know what I’d like to do next, but recognise it’s time for other people to have a say in how things develop. Early discussions with pupil referral unit and the flow of ideas around it have significant and far reaching potential for schools. Also in catching up on events and literature around your blog I’m curious about the young elder concept, and also destination data, and think I can see a new pattern emerging. However, for anyone or anything to have legs in this environment, the rhetorical gap between what policy makers say and what’s being done needs to close. This means schools being given both clear mission and sufficient means to deliver impartial careers education and guidance, while the all age careers service, if it is ever going to be an engine of social transformation, needs to take start taking shape before there’s no one left qualified to deliver it. 

If you are interested in finding out more about Talking Jobs Andrew has created a guest pass for AiCD readers (April only).   


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